For My Husband Each Time I Leave

I piece together a puzzle while we’re apart.
          First the frame, then the faces we know, and I name them all.
     Then the palm trees we have planted, but not the sky. Though the moon
               is easy, its three pieces: one for you, one for me, and one
left over. Now the car we have never driven and the signs
     that glow. I don’t finish without you. It is not the same.
The frame is empty, and I leave it that way on a kitchen table
                         somewhere in the mountains far from you, and farther
from home. Maybe I’ll rearrange the lamps now. Move
               their bulbs into different rooms. See how the light changes.

Hard River

The photograph is the kind usually discarded because the child you wanted to save forever looked away just then. What is left when the river rises: mud-exposed roots, plastic bags stuck in branches, drowned critter holes along the bank. Because when you reached out to hand him a flat stone to skip, the only thing left was his pair of shoes on the shore. You remember the back of his head, his hair the color of clover honey, his small, bare shoulders square with the water. You remember the river gorge rocks better than you remember his face. And wasn’t his face yours? Did your eyes open underwater, look at the roiling? Did your lungs gulp like gills, invite the river slice by slice? The shoes weren’t really there. But you save the photograph because you couldn’t save the child. You venerate its glossy face in a box locked shut.

Harvest, Crush

Harvest begins at night, when the grape berries are damp with desert-moon cool. The season when I turn to drape my leg over his, and he has already gone into the vineyard. He drives a harvester, eats through each hilly row, crashing through the dark. Square spotlights rumble bolted to the machine’s canopy, shaking the vineshadows with light. Tractors drag gondolas behind to haul the stripped and bruised clusters. Broken skins, early juice, tartaric tannins, woody stems all pressed together and leaking from a steel corner. In this season, he naps in daylight, heavy-lidded with raw wine.

He dreams of barrel splinters and staves, green oak meat on his tongue. He tastes the lips of a woman who has just eaten chocolate. He tastes the smell of redwood fog and plum pits. (He does not tell me what he dreams and tastes). When I wake him in the afternoon, he lights a cigarette with a match I strike. He eats a breakfast I make of boiled hot dogs and tomatoes. I think of each mile of fence from this trailer in California to Broke Leg Falls, Kentucky and wish his body would return to claim this creaking ghost.

There are late nights when we gather like lonely quail into a flatbed truck and shoot at anything that moves, or drive into a ditch, ruin our bodies, just to make the air around us shudder, break. There are long, one-lane roads that still have blood on them from wrecked bodies, split lives emptied of guns, boots, falcons, trucks, plentiful water shipped in from a thousand miles, an ocean just over that ridge. No, just over that one. No, that one there.

SARAH MCCART-JACKSON is a Kentucky poet and folklorist, as well as the author of Stonelight (winner of the Weatherford Award in Poetry and the Airlie Prize, Airlie Press) and three chapbooks: Calf Canyon, Vein of Stone, and Children Born on the Wrong Side of the River. Her poetry has appeared in Indiana Review, Copper Nickel, Bellingham Review, Journal of American Folklore, The Maine Review, NANO Fiction, and others. She received an Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and has served as artist-in-residence for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Note: the title and first sentence of "Hard River" are borrowed from Kelly Terwilliger.